A Triple Play of Jewish Holidays
With the World Series coming up, some might wonder if by “triple play” I mean that most rare event that makes baseball fans cheer ecstatically. I am an avid fan, but I’m actually referring to a Jewish triple play—because it’s rare that all three of the Fall Feasts of Israel occur in the month of October. Don’t worry, I’m not going to pronounce the end of the world… though there is plenty of prophetic significance to these feasts.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot form a pageantry of gospel drama, a portrait of God’s salvation story—not just for Jews, but for all who’ll receive it.
A good way to remember these three holidays is by three “Rs”—repentance, redemption and return. They sum up the biblical theology animating these three festivals. (See Leviticus 23:23–43.)
Rosh Hashanah, referred to in the Bible as the Feast of Trumpets, is all about repentance. The blast of the shofar (a ram’s horn trumpet) called ancient Israelites to attention—it could announce a call to war, the arrival of royalty, the changing of the guard, or it could begin a solemn assembly. In this case, it’s a solemn assembly that begins a period of repentance, both individually and for the nation. The Feast of Trumpets launches a period known as the Days of Awe—ten days to contemplate and reflect—days that lead inexorably to the Day of Atonement.
It is customary, during Rosh Hashanah synagogue services today, to read the Akedah, the Genesis 22 account of the binding of Isaac. (See Genesis 22:1-19.) The story begins with the words, “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham.”
Though the Akedah is not specifically about repentance, it’s a great metaphor for this somber day. Like Abraham, the Jewish people enter a time of testing and self-examination. We walk with him up the side of the mountain. We carry with us the burdens of life like the wood and knife—and the voice of Isaac echoes in our imagination, “But where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Can we share the faith of our father Abraham as he answers, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb”? We know the rest of the story; the ram is caught in the thicket by its horn—the shofar. That horn, that trumpet, reminds us that God graciously provides all things, including forgiveness, for those who truly repent and believe.
Repentance leads to redemption, the story powerfully enacted in the pageantry of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:27 commanded the Israelites concerning this time: “you shall afflict your souls.” The rabbis interpret this as a complete and total fast from sundown to sundown.
Our souls were afflicted as we humbled ourselves on Yom Kippur, anticipating the highest drama on the holiest of Holy Days—the only day of the year when the high priest could safely enter the Holy of Holies. In this sacred and solemn place he would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, to make atonement for the sins of the people.
Throngs of afflicted souls anxiously awaited the high priest’s return from the Most Holy Place. If God would regard sin in the heart of the intercessor, He might strike him down, rejecting the sacrifice made on behalf of the people. As soon as the people saw the priest exit that Most Holy Place, they rejoiced as though they were witnessing a glorious resurrection from the dead. God had indeed forgiven sin, and atonement had been secured for another year.
The Day of Atonement included another powerful redemption image: the Azazel, or scapegoat. The high priest would place his hands upon the head of that goat and confess the sin of the nation, picturing a symbolic transfer of the sin of the people onto the innocent animal. A scarlet cord was tied about the goat and the animal was led through the midst of the crowd out of sight, into the wilderness to die. As the Psalmist declared: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
Sadly, the powerful pictures of redemption in the stories of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have become veiled from the eyes of most Jewish people today. Abraham declared in faith, “God will provide for Himself the lamb,” and yet for Jews who do not know Jesus, there is no lamb. For those afflicted in soul there is no Temple and there is no great High Priest to come back to us from the Most Holy Place. But we are not left without hope. There is still one more festival to celebrate: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, the promise of return.
Sukkot is a unique holiday in that God actually commanded the people to rejoice for seven days! This harvest festival celebrates the final ingathering of crops in the land. Yet God promised more than crops; He was talking about people, the fruit of His work of grace and salvation. “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean … ” (Ezekiel 36:24– 25a).
Jesus may very well have had this promise in mind when He stood in the Temple during Sukkot and declared: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37–38).
When Jewish people turn to Jesus, the redemption story is fulfilled in their lives as their hearts are sprinkled clean. He isthe Lamb that God Himself provided, He isour great High Priest who made the sacrifice, as well as becoming that sacrifice. And He promised that in the last days He would return to His people and right all wrongs: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3).
I hope this month you will remember repentance, redemption and return—the wonderful triple play of God’s salvation story. Remember the Jewish people, most of whom have no idea of how these feasts point to Jesus. Remember our missionaries who will be conducting special events and outreaches around these holidays. Your prayers will surely make a difference as we do all we can to connect with those whom God is seeking to save this month.
The rest of this newsletter edition is available by pdf. It includes bits from our branches in Los Angeles, Israel and Johannesburg, articles on Feasts and Fasts (plus a special offer), Simchat Torah (another Jewish holiday), “For Your Jewish Information,” a cartoon, and of course prayer prompters. Enjoy!
Find out more about David Brickner, his writings, speaking schedule and possible availability to speak at
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.